The Maryland Terrapins gymnastics team traveled to Penn State Saturday afternoon for their first road meet as a member of the Big Ten. In their first conference meets, the Terps managed to surprise Minnesota when the Golden Gophers visited Xfinity Center while Penn State lost to Nebraska on the road. After Saturday's 196.550 to 194.450 Nittany Lions' win, both squads are now 1-1 in the conference.
NCAA gymnastics is a unique sport. With regard to reaching the NCAA Tournament wins and losses count less than amassing a high enough Regional Qualifying Score (RQS). The RQS consists of a team's six highest meet scores at least three of which must be away meets. The highest score is then discarded and the remaining five averaged. If this RQA is in the top 36, the team reaches the NCAA Tournament. So, losing the head to head meet will not, in and of itself, diminish Maryland's chances for a sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
While the Terrapins likely expected a better overall performance, there are positives to build on as the season progresses. Principal among them are that Maryland has improved their score in each meet since collecting a disappointing 193.025 in the first meet of the season.
Second, in 2014, the Terrapins didn't reach a team score over 194.000 until the fifth meet of the season. This is the second time in three meets they have bettered that mark. Third, Maryland competed in the University Park Regional last year so the team should have been familiar with the environment in Rec Hall. Saturday's total score of 194.450 was slightly better than the 194.425 they registered last April in one of their most disappointing performances.
First Rotation - Bars
In their first meet away from home, the Terps, who started all their home meets on the vault, opened on the bars. Sarah Faller got Maryland started with a 9.725. Senior Katy Dodds followed with a 9.700 - her best score of the early season. Two freshmen, Abby Epperson and Evelyn Nee followed with Epperson racking up a 9.825 - the highest score for any Terp. The Tang sisters rounded out the rotation each scoring a 9.800. Maryland finished with a total of 48.850 that matched their score against Minnesota. Penn State opened on the vault and collected a team score of 49.150. The deficit of 0.300 was significant but didn't eliminate the possibility of a comeback.
Second Rotation - Vault
The teams swapped apparatuses as Maryland moved to the vault and the Nittany Lions to the bars. Just as Faller had started the Terps with a 9.725 on the bars, Karen Tang got the squad off to the same opening score on the vault. After fellow freshman Dominiquea Trotter posted a 9.700, Abby Epperson exploded with a 9.850. Kathy Tang continued the momentum scoring 9.825 and after Shannon Skockho's 9.750, Dodds rounded out the rotation by matching Epperson's 9.850. The 49.000 team total was Maryland's best of the season. WIth a team score of 49.100 on the bars, the home squad increased their lead to 0.400.
Third rotation - Floor
If Maryland was to put any pressure on Penn State, this was the rotation they needed to do it. Under head coach Brett Nelligan, the floor exercise has been among the Terrapins' strongest and most consistent events. In their first two meets, the Terps scored 49.100 and 49.000 on the floor exercise. Unfortunately, there must be something about the air at Rec Hall that wrecks Maryland's floor performances. In the first meet last season, the Terps scored 48.200. They didn't score under 48.300 until the NCAA Tournament at Penn State when they scored 48.250. Although they bettered that score, the 48.700 was the lowest of the young season. With the balance beam looming for Maryland and another 49.150 score by Penn State on their beam rotation, the head to head competition was all but over and the Terps needed to focus on continuing to improve on this challenging apparatus.
Fourth rotation - Beam
While the Terps would register their best beam score of the first three meets, their general troubles on this event continued and it is the apparatus where they will need to make the most progress if they are to truly challenge any of the Big Ten squads. A top level solid team performance might have allowed the Terps to stay within a point on the home floor of one of the better squads in the B1G.
Six gymnasts compete in each event and the five highest scores are used to compute the team's total. This means that, although it places added pressure on her five teammates, one gymnast can have a poor event. Two cannot. Unfortunately for the Terrapins, two did. The upshot, of course is that the higher of those two low scores would have to be included in Maryland's team total. As we stated above, the 47.900 was the Terps' best score to date and it is better than Maryland's scores at a comparable point last season. However, if the Terps are going to be competitive against squads like Penn State that are capable of scoring over 49.000 on the beam, the falls, steps, and bobbles will need to stop.
The Terps travel to Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes in another Big Ten dual Friday night before returning home to face Michigan on February seventh.